29 July 2020

The world is changing, and collectively we are unprepared for the challenges ahead. In late 2019 the Global Infrastructure Hub (GI Hub) conducted a survey of over 400 infrastructure practitioners globally, revealing that top of the issues industry felt least prepared to deal with was sustainability and geopolitical challenges such as the rise of climate change, natural disasters and increased social inequality. The survey results also showed that technology-related trends or InfraTech (specifically the rise of the Internet of Things, sensors and smart infrastructure) were perceived to have the highest impact on the industry.

Earlier this month, in response to the potential impact of InfraTech, the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors endorsed the Riyadh InfraTech Agenda, which aims to promote the wider adoption of technology in infrastructure. So, what is ‘InfraTech’ and why is it so important now? It can be described as the integration of material, machine, and digital technologies across the infrastructure life cycle. At its broadest definition, InfraTech can be considered any technology that impacts the development, delivery, and ongoing operation of infrastructure.

InfraTech's impact in a post-COVID world?

Technology in infrastructure was already a key industry trend pre-COVID, but now it has taken on a more profound purpose: to ensure the continued operations of critical infrastructure in the event of future crises and pandemics. InfraTech is no longer a ‘nice to have’; rather it is a critical element in the ability to deliver sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

In this context, the potential impacts from adopting InfraTech includes:

  • Enabling industry and governments to do ‘more with less’. InfraTech not only has the potential to increase the attractiveness of assets to private capital, it also enables cost-effective upgrades of existing infrastructure, extends asset life and defers costly asset maintenance and renewals.

  • Attracting more private capital into infrastructure. Overall project risk is reduced by using data and analytics to make better, more informed decisions across the value chain. In reducing or better quantifying risks and costs, infrastructure investment becomes more attractive to private capital, helping reduce the burden on government budgets.

  • Enhancing quality infrastructure, including infrastructure that is resilient to future pandemics. InfraTech can be applied across the three phases of a pandemic: alert, crisis and recovery. By using data and analytics to automate and optimise operations, resilience is built into the provision of infrastructure services, allowing critical services to operate without disruption even during lockdowns.  

Barriers to InfraTech

Last year GI Hub investigated the levels of technology adoption in the infrastructure sector. A series of interviews were undertaken with representatives from governments, investors, contractors, operators, technology firms and advisors globally to identify areas of reform that could accelerate the rate of technology adoption in infrastructure, with a view to achieving the potential for economic efficiencies. These interviews identified the following barriers to greater InfraTech adoption (fig. 1).

Figure 1

How we're reducing barriers 
The GI Hub is now working with the G20 and the World Bank to address several of these barriers; however, the area of focus for the GI Hub is facilitating better education and awareness of what’s out there and what works (see #5 above).

Our work on this consists of two key elements:

  1. Creating a use case library: Identifying viable use cases, defining their value proposition and demonstrating performance through case studies increases the levels of confidence in InfraTech among government and industry stakeholders. The aim is to encourage investors and end users to take the next step in developing the InfraTech project.

  2. Facilitating an InfraTech ecosystem: Adopting InfraTech is a complex undertaking; oftentimes with no clear understanding of the end result. This requires an adaptive approach to project delivery – pivot when required and ‘fail fast’ if needed. As a potential investor or end user in InfraTech, access to an ecosystem of experts across government, industry, technology and academia allows you to do just this. It allows you to quickly gather the right kinds of insights at the right time and call on knowledge and experience of others that have done this before.

What’s next?

Over the coming months, GI Hub will share our findings so far on the most impactful InfraTech use cases across core economic infrastructure sectors like transport, energy, water and waste.

InfraTech is changing at an extraordinary pace and what is a complete library today will soon become outdated. For this reason, we are committed to updating the InfraTech Use Case Library and will work with key partners to include new technological trends. If you are interested in contributing use cases to our Library please contact us here.          

Through our InfraTech ecosystem, we will work closely with key government and industry partners to further develop solutions to key barriers. Our early engagement has identified several areas of potential reform (fig. 1 above), but to solve some of these challenges, a multi-stakeholder approach is necessary. This is where the ecosystem will play an important role, bringing the right decision makers to the table to ultimately accelerate the adoption of InfraTech to deliver more sustainable, resilient and inclusive infrastructure.    

To hear about future events involving our ecosystem and to keep up to date on GI Hub’s InfraTech work subscribe to our newsletter here.